Entertainment & Arts

Hilary Mantel plots third Cromwell play

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall
Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall

Fans of Hilary Mantel who have flocked to the stage versions of the writer's two Cromwell novels may be intrigued to learn that a third play is in the works.

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton, have arrived in London's West End after a sell-out run at the RSC in Stratford.

Both novels, set in Tudor England, won the Booker Prize.

Mantel is currently working on the third instalment in the saga, entitled The Mirror and the Light.

The books chart the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, the commoner-turned-politician who became King Henry VIII's right-hand man.

Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel is working on the third instalment in her Cromwell saga, entitled The Mirror and the Light

Speaking to the BBC ahead of the plays' official opening at the Aldwych Theatre this weekend, Mantel and Poulton said they hoped the third novel would also end up on stage.

"We've written the first scene," Poulton said.

"Yes, we can't really stop ourselves," Mantel added.

But first there's the small matter of finishing the last book of the Tudor trilogy. Mantel estimates that she's still "about 18 months away" from completion.

"I feel intense pressure to get this book right. It has to contain the two previous books in some way, and it has to reflect back on them.

"This is my big project. I know I'll never do anything again that is so much me.

"And, after all, it's a 10 year project so you're not going to rush over the final months."

At the Oxford Literary Festival in March, the writer revealed that the third novel would overlap slightly with the end of Bring Up the Bodies - beginning with Cromwell on the scaffold, shortly after Anne Boleyn has been executed.

WOLF HALL. Nathaniel Parker (Henry VIII) and Lydia Leonard (Anne Boleyn)
Nathaniel Parker (Henry VIII) and Lydia Leonard (Anne Boleyn) in Wolf Hall

Mantel told the BBC she is still writing new dialogue for the stage adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies with only two days to go before the London opening.

"I came in about an hour ago and [director] Jeremy Herrin said can he have a line for the Duke of Suffolk to shout to a servant," she said.

"It's never finished," Poulton added. "We have seen the plays more than anybody else and we are constantly aware of things that can be improved - a line here, a change there."

The plays, which each last three hours, star Ben Miles as Cromwell and Nathaniel Parker as Henry.

The West End season coincides with filming on the Wolf Hall six-part TV series, in which Mark Rylance will play Cromwell opposite Damian Lewis as Henry. It is due to be shown by the BBC in 2015.

Asked if she would miss Cromwell when the final book in the trilogy was finished, Mantel said: "He was around for about 30 years before I got to putting a word on paper, so I sort of trust him not to go away."

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are at the Aldwych Theatre, London, until 6 September.

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